I-Team: New Cranston police chief faces challenges

With a ticket scandal, allegations of discrimination and abuse of power by the former chief, the new chief of the Cranston Police Department has a tough job ahead.

"There's no question that there have been challenges within the department," said Lt. Col. Michael Winquist of the Rhode Island State Police.

Winquist would come to the chief's position after a rocky year that has shaken moral and turned the department upside down.

In November, a parking ticket scandal hit the headlines. The neighborhoods of two city councilors who voted against a police contract were targeted with tickets. Mayor Allan Fung brought in the state police to investigate.

In January, Chief Marco Palombo was put on leave and eventually retired in the middle of the probe. And the Mayor then recommended former union president Stephen Antonucci fired for allegedly orchestrating the ticket blitz.

"Treat people with dignity and respect, no matter if you sweep the floors in the police department or you wear majors insignias. It doesn't matter. You're treated the same as everybody else," Winquist said.

It appeared Winquist was clearly addressing some of the department's personnel problems which were exposed by the NBC 10 I-Team.

Capt. Todd Patalano was told to stay home for nearly two years and collect his pay. Patalano claims he was the target of a vendetta by Palombo. He's since filed a lawsuit against Fung and the city.

Other officers and police employees have since come forward and alleged abuse of power at the hands of the former chief.

The city council claims the cost to taxpayers between salary and legal fees for all these problems is approximately $650,000 so far.

Fung recognized the need for change.

"I wanted someone who is proactive, willing to meet and listen to people. I think that's an important part of leadership," he said.

Fung insisted the move was not politically motivated with a Republican gubernatorial primary less than two weeks away.

"It's about the lieutenant colonel 'cause he's the right person to lead the department into the future. Let's not bring politics into it," he said.

The approval process with the city council could take about a month.

The two state troopers helping to manage the police department over the last eight months will stay on the job until the transition with the new chief is complete.